For 24 English football teams, the road to the golden ticket begins today.
The Championship. the second tier of English football, starts at 2000 British Summer Time (1400 Central Daylight Time), with Reading hosting Derby County in a battle of teams which were once in the Premier League, the richest football league on the planet.
The teams which finish first and second in the Championship over a grueling season of 46 fixtures earn automatic promotion to the Premier League, which means a windfall of anywhere from 150 to 200 million pounds, thanks to the rich television contract the Prem enjoys with broadcasters around the world, including NBC in the United States and Canada (TSN simulcasts the NBC feed in Canada).
The desperation will be especially intense for the five teams which have been relegated from the Premier League to the Championship over the last two seasons: Hull City and Middlesbrough, who were relegated in May 2017 after earning promotion from the Championship the previous season; and Stoke City, Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion, all of whom were relegated three months ago.
When a team is relegated from the Premier League, it receives two years’ worth of parachute payments, anywhere from 70 to 80 million pounds, to help ease the financial drain of relegation.
The bottom three teams in the Premier League are relegated to the Championship each season. The system of promotion and relegation is used in every major football league around the world EXCEPT Major League Soccer, which uses the traditional North American model of fixed franchises. This is a main reason why I do not like MLS.
Notice I listed only five teams in the Championship receiving parachute payments.
The sixth member of that group, Sunderland, was relegated again after finishing dead last in the Championship in 2017-18. The Black Cats are now in League One, the third tier of English football. Sunderland’s Stadium of Light seats almost 49,000, while six stadia seat less than 10,000, and four others have less capacity than Bournemouth’s Dean Court, the smallest Premier League venue.
This has to be embarrassing in the north east of England, especially after Tyneside Derby rival Newcastle finished strong last year in the Premier League under Rafa Benitez and is pegged as a dark horse to grab a spot in European football for 2019-210.
Wolverhampton and Cardiff City earned the golden tickets from last year’s Championship thanks to finishing in the top two. The next four teams were in a playoff for the final spot in this year’s Premier League. Fulham, which plays in London and is owned by Shahid Khan, the same man who owns the Jacksonville Jaguars, defeated former Premier League side Aston Villa in the final.
Villa has more resources than almost all other Championship sides. I’ll pick the Birmingham club to move back to the Premier League for 2019-20 by winning the league. Stoke City will also be back in the Prem come next August, with the Potters taking second. Middlesbrough, which made the Championship playoff but lost in the semis to Villa, will join Newcastle United to give fans in north east England two Premier League sides, further adding to Sunderland’s woe.
Bolton, which barely survived relegation to League One in 2017-18, won’t be so fortunate this time. Goodbye. Joining them on the down escalator will be Hull City and newly promoted Rotterham.
Next week, I will reveal my Premier League predicted table. Right now, I’m not seeing the Prem in Wales come next August…